Enjoying a stunning location on the banks of the Tarn, Albi really deserves its nickname of "the red city"! A mixture of brick and stone, this episcopal city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the pearls of the South-West. The reason? Its superb buildings and picturesque charm. To soak up the atmosphere of the city, wander the narrow old streets of the historic city centre, or along the banks of the Tarn, both ideal places for a leisurely stroll. On the way, admire the old brick and half-timbered houses and the Renaissance mansions like the Maison Enjalbert or the Hôtel Reynès.
A gem of the Southern French Gothic style, the Cathedral of St. Cecilia is the world's biggest brick cathedral, and also the largest painted cathedral in Europe. Built in two centuries, from 1282 to 1480, it presents a richly decorated interior: 18,500 m² of frescoes, a roodscreen in the Flamboyant Gothic style and remarkable statuary. Look up to the vaulted ceiling and admire magnificent decorations in the Italian Renaissance style. The unusually large organ with four keyboards dates from the 18th century. It is placed just above one of the oldest depictions of the Last Judgement, painted in the 15th century. Another attraction on display in the building is a facsimile of the Mappa Mundi, one of the pages of a manuscript belonging to the cathedral chapter. In the Treasury, nine information signs tell the cathedral's whole story, from the 8th century to the present day.
Next to the fortress-like cathedral is the Berbie Palace, formerly the Bishops' Palace and another architectural gem. With a cour d'honneur (ceremonial courtyard) and a tower on either side, it is still very well preserved. Built in the 18th century, the palace houses the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, exhibiting many works by the famous Albi-born artist: early paintings, portraits, scenes from brothels, prints from the world of entertainment... Round off your visit with a walk in the magnificent palace gardens, offering a superb panoramic view of the river, the banks of the Tarn, the Pont-Vieux bridge, and the surrounding hills in the distance.
Continue your tour of Albi via the 11th-century Collegiate Church of St. Salvi, a subtle blend of brick and stone. Inside this beautiful monument combining Romanesque and Gothic styles, six large paintings tell the life story of St. Salvi as well as the history of the city. Under the organ, look carefully at the fine details and colours of the sculptures. Then head towards the charming cloister with Romanesque arcades and surprising carved Gothic capitals.
The very symbol of the historic city centre, the Old Alby House (Maison du Vieil Alby) is probably one of the most distinctive houses in this neighbourhood. Made of brick and timber framing, it has kept all of its medieval character: corbels, half-timbering, an open-air attic called a soleilhou... Upstairs is a permanent exhibition about Toulouse-Lautrec's younger years.
Measuring 151 metres in length, the Pont-Vieux d'Albi is one of France's oldest bridges. Built in around 1040, it was a defensive element during the Hundred Years War, then families moved in during the 16th century. They stayed in half-timbered houses built over the road. A few metres away, the Academy of Miniatures museum will enchant children and adults with its extraordinary collection of around sixty displays of miniatures recreating the interiors of elegant homes.
Albi is also associated with other renowned figures. First there was Lapérouse, an 18th-century navigator who went on an expedition around the world. A museum about him tells the story of this voyage. There is also Raphaël Cordoba, a painter who wanted to share his passion for art by creating a Museum for All. Based in the former Renaissance home of a wealthy pastel merchant, the Saunal Mansion, this museum showcases 65 reproductions of famous paintings executed by the artist from Albi.